Monday, January 13, 2014
I would call my 2014 marathon a great race and a disappointing venue.
We woke up from our room at the Swan at 3:15. The first thing I did was to check the temperature and it was 60º. It had rained the night before and I was hoping it will cool down a bit more but it was 60º and humid at the start (64º and sunny at the finish). So I donned my short-sleeve running shirt and my capri running pants instead of the long-sleeve set of running clothes I was hoping I would wear.
It’s so fun to see the world through the eyes of my 6 ½ year old. Even at 4 in the morning, she squealed, “We get to ride that!” when she saw the bus that would take us to Epcot for the start. “This bus has handles on the backs of the seats; that’s so cool!” and “Look at the giant golf ball (Epcot)” and “Look at that train (monorail); I get to ride that!” And on and on as she took in all the sights. Her excitement was so contagious. She allowed me to hold her hand as we made our way to the start through the thousands of other runners. She happily smiled for the race photographers.
Even though I didn’t really need it, I wore my throwaway jacket and had hand warmers prior to the start.
I really reveled in the sight of the fireworks for each corral at the start of the race. The fireworks are part of why I love the Disney race.
When my corral, G, started we were pretty packed for the first three miles. It was tight enough that it was hard to maneuver. I found a guy with a peach sleeveless running shirt who was running right at my pace. I got behind him and put my left shoulder on his right shoulder and let him pave my way. I lost him at the 3 mile water station but by then the road had widened and the crowd and thinned out to where it felt comfortable.
I knew hydration was going to be crucial for the day. I vowed to drink water at every station. I have to say that I’m better at drinking from the open cups than I used to be. I used to splash the water in my face, scaring me that I would flush out my eye contacts, snort half of it up my nose and spend a while coughing after choking down a sip. But I’m a bit better now. I perfected my routine of pointing to the water volunteer, thanking them, cupping my hand over my iPod in case I splashed and then taking a few gulps.
Before I knew it, we were at the 5.5 mile mark and at the Cinderella Castle. I had never seen the Castle with holiday lights and it was breathtakingly beautiful. Karen and Kylie had ridden the monorail and were in the crowds. This was the only stop that Cheer Squad folks could see the runners and it was packed. I smiled and waved and the cheering crowd gave me such a boost of energy.
My running strategy was to run between 9:00 – 9:20 for the first 7 miles, then told hold to 9:20 – 9:30 pace until at least 13 miles and then as long as I could after the half. Then to make it to mile 20 before hitting 10-minute miles and then to run the fastest 10 minute miles I could manage until the finish.
Based on my training runs, I thought I would realistically run my marathon 4:15 – 4:25. I knew that I definitely wanted to run faster than 4:30. If I ran a 4:30, I knew I would cry. So when I created a pace bracelet, I debated on making one with a realistic time or a PR time. I figured, “What the heck; if you’re going to make a pace bracelet, do one for a PR”. So I created my own pace bracelet showing me what I needed to run at each mile as well as my cumulative time at each mile. I created it with the goal of running 4:11 which would have been a 1 minute PR improvement over 2012’s time of 4:12. I had made a similar one before my last half marathon and used it with great success. I had printed it at home and then made it strong and (I thought) water safe by layering packing tape over all sides. My half-marathon homemade bracelet worked great. Well, apparently, I hadn’t taped my marathon one well enough. Because I looked at it at mile 5 and it was a black inky mess. Some water had splashed inside the tape and had made all the ink run together. There was nothing to read. All I thought was “Well, that’s going to look stupid and awful for the pictures” but I didn’t stress about it. I knew what I needed to do.
Mile 6 – 13 was my strongest part of the race. We were on back roads on our way to Animal Kingdom and I could focus on finding my happy pace along with a good running form. At around mile 9, we entered the Disney Speedway. The Speedway and the ESPN center portions of the run were new to me as this course was different than the one I had run in 2012. We had to run down a very sharp driveway and then back up a very short driveway to get onto the track. I ran on the innermost edge of the track circle. The track was filled with antique cars and their owners were kind and clapped for us but overall, I wasn’t that impressed with this portion of the course.
The halfway mark was at Animal Kingdom and there were some good crowds cheering for us. At this point I was pretty disappointed by the lack of Disney characters along the route. However, I did enjoy the bands along the route. They performed well, they smiled danced and really gave me a boost of energy. At mile 14, I was still going strong. At mile 15, we were running on the hardest concrete in the world. Granted, at home on training run, I run on sidewalks not on pavement. My body is used to concrete. But whatever concrete was used on mile 15 overpasses was a killer. My right hip and right groin area started to really complain. “Hang in there! You just hang in there!” I screamed to my muscles. We when got off the concrete and onto pavement again, I could immediately feel the difference in my hips.
And then came mile 16. I had studied the course map and saw that at 16 miles, there was what I call an “out and back”. This was a part of the course where half of the road was taken up by those of us heading into the ESPN complex and the other half of the road had runners who were heading for the finish line. From my first marathon, I knew that this was mentally depressing. It’s just hard to see thousands of people who are so far ahead of you. I had prepared myself but I still took a hit. And I had to look at the ground instead of ahead and around me in order to keep going. When I look at my splits, at mile 16 I dipped to 9:42 instead of the consistent 9:20’s I had been running. I ran a full mile looking away from all those thousands of runners ahead of me.
But then I entered the hell of the ESPN complex. Oy! I hated this part! We entered the complex and then ran a three-mile circuitous route (miles 17-20) around the various baseball fields and tennis courts but the majority of these three miles we were running on pea gravel. Pea Gravel! All along, I knew that miles 15 – 20 would either make or break my marathon and that I needed to run my best and my strongest. But damn, pea gravel is hard to run on! It kicks back at you from the runners in front of you. It makes your footing uncertain. It skids your steps. I spent the majority of this run screaming, “Oh crap, oh crap, oh crap!” over and over.
At the start corral, I passed a 20-something boy who was running on blades. I thought of him and worried about his footing for this part of the course. I worried how the wheelchair people had made it. Plus, in addition to the pea gravel, the turns into the various fields were very tight. Each time, we had to squeeze into a new turn, runners were bumping shoulders and sliding together. I was bumped and jostled numerous times as were the people running all around me. And since I was at miles 17-20, these little bumps, hitches and tight turns caused pain.
Finally, at mile 20, I was back to the out-and-back. I heard Meryl Streep’s voice in my head from the movie, “River Wild”. When she had successfully negotiated the white-water gauntlet she had yelled, “We’re through!” And that’s what I thought as soon as I was away from the ESPN complex.
I had planned on having two Gu Chews every three miles. But I actually had 2 chews at miles 3, 6, 8, 11, 13, 16, 19. At miles 13 until the end of the race I usually had a gulp or two of Powerade and then a whole cup of water at the water stations. I was drinking way more than I ever had at a race but I figured I needed it and thankfully my belly tolerated it very well. And the Powerade consistently gave me a sugary boost. Sweet heaven bless all those fabulous water station volunteers. There were so many of them taking care of us throughout the race. I’m so very grateful to them.
Miles 20 – 26 were filled with running my best through pain in both hips and knees. I remember at one point my right foot starting yelling with pain around my ankle. “Wow!” I thought. “That feels like a big blister has ruptured and is rubbing”. And then I thought, “Well that’s just a blister; no big deal.” And, this is hard to explain but I mentally “leaned” into that one point on my right ankle. I focused on that pain in order to block out all other pain. And dang it, if that didn’t work! I felt like I did when I had focused at a picture on the wall in order to get through birth contractions.
I should also report that I had noticed that I was “gaining ground” throughout the marathon. I had pressed my Forerunner start button when my foot crossed the start pad, not a second beforehand. And I had prided myself on keeping my head in the race by being aware of all the tangents. Yet still, I finished the marathon with 26.70 on my GPS. Over half a mile of extra running. I was painfully aware of this those last 6 miles. I looked at my GPS when I hit mile 20 and thought, “This could be close; getting a PR isn’t impossible. You could be close to your previous time.” But this was my GPS mile 20, not the actual mile marker 20. And this realization hit me hard in those last six miles.
Somewhere between mile 23-25, I saw the 4:15 pacer and I held with him as long as I could. And my time improved from 10:50 at mile 23 to 9:51 at mile 24. Having the pacer pull away from me when I was running my absolute hardest was heartbreaking. My legs were filled with pain but at least I didn’t experience the “hit the wall” feeling I had in 2012. People were flying past me and I shuffled painfully along. “Just run your best, Wendy.” “You are doing fine; just run your best”, I told myself over and over as I struggled to just pick my feet up. I barely noticed anything around me throughout those Magic Kingdom miles. Who knows what those race photos will look like.
But then, there was the 26 mile sign and there was the fabulous finish-line gospel choir singing their hearts out. And a lump built up in my throat as I turned down the finish shoot. And there! There was Karen and Kylie, waving crazily at me from the bleachers. I saw them. They were cheering for me! I had done it! I had finished! And as the volunteer placed my medal around my neck, I let myself have a few happy tears. And I was completely at peace. No PR but one hell of a great run. I knew I had run my absolute best at every mile. When you know that without a doubt, there is nothing but pride in what you have accomplished.
So that’s my happy story! And here are my splits: 9:08, 9:02, 9:06, 9:13, 9:19, 9:25, 9:09, 9:14, 9:12, 9:12, 9:14, 9:13, 9:23, 9:22, 9:20, 9:42, 9:36, 9;52, 10:04, 10:20, 10:08, 10:33, 10:50, 9:51, 10:36, 10:49, .70-7:33.
If you wanted just the running details, see above. But if you want to know more details about this year’s race at Disney, read on. I ran the Disney marathon in 2012 and loved it. I’ve been fiercely loyal to it. I’m a person who likes to put a positive spin on things but I have to say that they disappointed me this year. Here’s how:
In comparison to my 2012 race, there were no characters for pictures at the pre-race party.
There was a lot more talk from the commentators instead of pumping music at the start corrals.
My biggest disappointment was the lack of characters along the race course. It seemed at the 2012 race there was a character at every half mile. And the characters had beautiful backdrops and props. This was what made my race so enjoyable because I loved seeing what was around the next corner. It really pulled me along the race. At this year’s race I saw the Pirates of the Carribean characters (that was the first one and it was great with a ship as their background), a few Animal Kingdom performers on stilts, then Peter Pan and Wendy(no background), then Dug from “Up” stationed with Bolt and later, Princess Jasmine (no background). To go from 20-30 characters to just these few was a huge disappointment.
And if you read above, you'll know that I did not like the course change to include the ESPN complex.
Cheer tent for Karen and Kylie—last year Karen enjoyed a full breakfast with warm dishes like scrambled eggs and bacon served. This year it was cold bagels and fruit and that was it.
In 2012, at the finish line we received a box of food that a runner would want to eat after a marathon. I remember eating a delicious bagel with peanut butter on the bus trip back to the hotel. This year’s box was filled with stuff I definitely did not want—rice cakes, potato chips, and skittles.
The Disney race was very well organized. Everything from the race expo, to the race busses, to the water volunteers was handled very well. The marathon photo folks were plentiful and very friendly. But I have to say, I’ll may be looking for another race venue for next winter’s race. We’ll see.
Posted by Wendy and Karen at 2:08 PM